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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  February 6, 2022 11:00pm-1:00am PST

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someone on the other end of the line who is calling him because they just found out somebody had died and they need to know what happened, i feel that pain. i know that pain. >> as for bonnie's older brother, jason, his mission became more personal. >> it changes the way that i raise my kids. spend more time to make sure that they are understanding why things are done certain ways. or wet builds character. it really is important in life. >> it seems like you're trying to grow some more bodies. >> maybe. >> you miss her a lot. don't you? does the ache ever go away? >> no. >> she was kind to everybody. that's why it was so shocking that anybody could harm her because she would never harm anybody. she was such a sweetheart. >> that's all for this edition of data line. i'm craig. thank you for watching.
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thank you for watching >> i'm craig melvin, and i'm natalie morales, and this is dateline. >> i don't even think i understand what happened. because you don't want to hear details. that was the worst day of my life that i found out about my mom. >> a loving couple. a romantic hike. a secluded spot. >> she was turning to look at the bird. it's like her feet just went out from under her. >> all of a sudden i hear yelling coming from downstream. there was mrs. mueller floating face up. >> a wife falling to her death. her husband falling apart. >> he was panicking. he was shaking. crying. >> the evidence at the scene makes us believe something entirely different happen. >> he told me she fell 20 feet. >> were the injuries?
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why did i not see what i expected to see? >> a search for the truth in the woods and water. if your theory is right, that is almost like she was being hunted. >> it's almost like a hare and a wolf. >> two chilling accounts of what happened to the mom they all adore. one seemingly unsolvable mystery. >> if you believe crazy story a, or you believe crazy story. both stories are crazy. which one do you want to go with? >> winding down a mountain in southwest colorado, waterfalls spill over granite. sunlight filters through a spins and evergreens. cottonwood creek, and only in the west sort of backdrop. these snapshots barely capture it. but who can resist trying. what a spot to preserve the memory.
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careful though, this is wilderness. the dangerous kind. >> she's in the river. she fell. they can't find her. she thinks she's dead. >> the frigid currents hair can take a life. and also, maybe, sweep away secrets. >> where's it was the perfect place to commit a murder, where nobody would see it? >> if you go into it looking for trouble, you can find it. >> and up in those mountains, sometimes questions are left behind. >> i don't have an explanation. but certainly, it does truly haunt me. >> the story begins with those pictures. together, they form a couple. husband and wife. leslie and fred mueller. married for almost 27 years. >> they were always super affectionate. they acted like they were two high school kids that had just started dating. all over each other.
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>> you. [laughs] >> these are the mueller's three children. amanda, the eldest. then him ariel and alex, the only boy. they were brought up in texas near the town san angelo. but for fun this family heading out to their second home in lake city, colorado. those photos of their parents were taken nearby. >> they both love the cabin and going up to colorado. >> it was so pretty. >> it was in a valley and you would look and see the mountains. >> there was a river running right near there. >> their rockies getaway was a family place to relax and escape their busy lives back home. >> what was lifelike up at the cabin? >> we would usually go in the summer's. we would just hike together. horseback riding. hang out as a family. >> did you feel like there was a lot of family bonding? >> yes. definitely. we ended up having a lot of fun. board games, going out hiking. doing all these different activities together.
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>> in texas, leslie hadn't ob/gyn practice and work long hours or delivering babies. she was the areas first ob/gyn? female ob/gyn? >> she was. she was very much a pioneer in that sense. i think the more people told her you can't do this, she wanted to do it. >> she was very strong and willed. and definitely a feminist in a way that she was all about, i can do anything that anyone can do. and i can do it better. >> in 2004, leslie decided to make a change in her life. she retired from medicine and devoted her time to the church. she even studied theology. but most of all, leslie loved the outdoors. especially riding horses. >> i think if she had her choice she would be riding horses every day and practicing theology. i'm sure she wished the days were longer. >> she's like super woman. >> yeah. >> their mom embraced adventure and she wanted her kids to as well. >> one time mom and i went,
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just the two of us. i had made horseback right in while. i told her i didn't want to go maybe five, six miles. she said, okay, on this trail is eight miles. but you can do it. by the time it ended, it was 16 miles. i said, mom? >> so she trick? two [laughs] >> we had such a wonderful time. but the next day i was not moving. >> as for fried, he owned a multi million dollar company importing steel for construction. still, their dad wasn't all business all the time. >> in the traditional motherly rolls, he will definitely step up and was in a free to be mr. mom. >> the mueller kids say their parents fit one another perfectly. >> he make a point of every night trying to do something nice for her. >> they talked all the time. anytime there was any type of disagreement about who -- the dishes weren't done or some honey do chore. they would talk about it until they were completely resolved. the next second, they would be all over each other again and be perfectly happy.
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>> it was a happy weekend at the mueller's colorado cabin. may 3rd, 2008. now that leslie was no longer working, she was spending much more time up here. that saturday, the spring day with sunny. the high altitude air still chilled. morning began with chores. >> i think we were unloading some hay. doing stuff kind of like that around the house. >> so was this just a very typical weekend in colorado? >> yeah. >> it was just alex, then 14, out with his appearance on this trip. then afternoon the three went to mass in town. later, after a snack, his parents suggested they cap off the day with a hike to photograph some stunning waterfalls nearby. >> i was pretty wiped out by that time. i wanted to hang out in the cabin and read a book or something like that. so, i turned them down on going for the hike. >> fred and leslie headed off with her dog gracie, a border collie pup.
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>> i think she was only six months old. >> was she rambunctious? >> she was rambunctious, for sure. she was the type of dog when the ceiling fan would be going to try to jump up and follow it around. >> fred and leslie parked at the base of the trail. snow still covered the ground in patches. they hiked up passed a series of waterfalls. up until they found the perfect spot for pictures. they had arrived at cottonwood creek. fred struck a pose first. next, leslie's turn. one more of fred, big smile. and then leslie, again. this time with her beloved gracie. then, something went wrong. >> it's like it just happened in slow motion in front of me. >> in an instant, leslie was gone. >> at the waterfall. she's in the river. >> what happened at cottonwood creek? >> coming up -- >> as she did? tell them is too soon to know. >> the hunt for answers would start with a frantic search. >> at the waterfall.
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she fell and they can't find her. >> where was leslie mueller? and did she survive. >> all of a sudden i hear yelling. yelling is coming from downstream. >> when "dateline" continues. eze driftin' on by ♪ ♪ you know how i feel ♪ copd may have gotten you here, but you decide what's next. start a new day with trelegy. ♪ ...feelin' good ♪ no once-daily copd medicine has the power to treat copd in as many ways as trelegy. with three medicines in one inhaler, trelegy helps people breathe easier and improves lung function. it also helps prevent future flare-ups. trelegy won't replace a rescue inhaler for sudden breathing problems. tell your doctor if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure before taking it. do not take trelegy more than prescribed. trelegy may increase your risk of thrush, pneumonia, and osteoporosis. call your doctor if worsened breathing,
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family's vacation cabin in colorado. his sisters were on this weekend trip. and that saturday afternoon, his parents went out for a hike without him. do you remember the last words you said to your mom as she was leaving the cabin? >> see you later. you know? >> just a normal, of course i'm going to see my mom in an hour? >> yeah, exactly. nothing really memorable. >> so then, there's a whole period of time that they are gone. what's the next thing you remember? >> so, reading. hanging around. i think the first time i kind
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of notice it was getting a little late. it had gotten dark. and i know nobody should be kind of hiking when it's dark. >> alex had no inkling of the tragedy unfolding at cottonwood creek. it started right after his dad took this picture of his mother, leslie. leslie gracie posed here. you can see it's a stunning setting. but just about an arms length behind me is a cliff. a steep drop off to the granite below. the icy cold waters of cottonwood creek. right after fred snapped the picture, leslie fell and was swept away in the water. unable to find her, fred raced for help. driving more than a mile to the nearest house. >> somebody just showed up at my house. >> with no cell service up by the greek, the owner of the house, justin sparks was the first to call 9-1-1. >> he pulled up, he said... at the waterfall. she's in the river. she fell and they can't find her. he's frantic, of course. he said he thinks his wife is dead.
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>> it's his wife? >> yeah it's. >> the homeowner offered right away to help fred. the sped back up the mountain and fred dropped him off at a spot to begin searching. just down the road, physicians assistant and ems volunteer michael golob was on duty. >> a call went out over the radio for a female drowning victim. >> golob headed over to the base of the trail. there he ran into fred. >> he comes barreling down at a high rate of speed. kind of slams on his brakes. starts yelling at me. let's go! let's go, let's go! >> the ems responded notice the man he was trying to help could also be injured. fred's face was also scratched up. >> he had some superficial lacerations and so i take a minute to make sure this isn't my second victim. to make sure he's okay. he assures me he's fine, he's fine. just kind of wants to keep going. >> but then, as fred drove, he seemed disoriented. he pulled over but he couldn't seem to find where leslie fell. >> i start to unload from the jeep.
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he says no, this isn't it. and we came back in the jeep. he continues upstream, or uphill. >> after another stop, they found the right place and hike toward the creek. >> all of a sudden i hear yelling. and the yelling is coming from downstream. >> it was the homeowner justin sparks. >> michael golob, took off towards him. he was in a neat poll towards the war falls. >> there was mrs. mueller. she's dressed in a lime green jacket. she's floating face up. he actually found her. i believe he used the word pinned under the log and face down. >> leslie had no pulse. and golob thought there was still hope she could be revived. fred had caught up, towering over them from the peak creek indictment. >> he says, she dead? >> i told him it was too soon to. >> golob sent fred back down the road for more help. by then a small village of's first responders had assembled at the start of the trail. among them was hinsdale county sheriff's deputy at the time, justin casey.
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>> we had other officers responded. we also had ems personnel, ambulances. fire personnel. coming with trucks. >> dispatchers put in a call call to local sheriff ron bruce. >> we got report of a drowning at cottonwood creek. >> by then, a group of medical responders made their way up to the creek to help. but still, no heartbeat. not a breath from leslie. and it was clear she was gone. >> we were not going to be able to bring mrs. mueller back. >> at the cabin, alex was wondering why his parents were back yet. their hike was only supposed to last an hour or so. but they had been gone more than three hours. were you worried? >> not really worried as if something happened to them. it was more like it was where they would stay out past dark. >> it was passed 8 pm when his dad got home. without his mom. >> it's my dad and the deputy. they come in. it's kind of a shock to see.
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when you're expecting somebody, to see strangers coming in instead. >> what did you think when you see that? >> not a whole lot at the time honestly. you kind of going to shut down mode. >> alex recalled his dad seemed like he was in shock. >> he was very disheveled. had been crying a lot. he gave me a big hug and broke. >> i can't even imagine getting that news. when you just thought your parents were going for quick height. >> it's disbelief, really. the whole thing just seemed so surreal. >> then, father and son were shuttled to the sheriff's department where fred could file a report about the accident. >> i remember then saying, you take fred and i'll take alex. >> sheriff bruce was at the station to meet them. >> and my initial reaction to fred was he was a victim. a grieving husband. >> fred gave a brief handwritten statement. >> we want to make sure we've dotted the ice, cross the t's. we were dealing with the death of a woman. >> then fred and alex headed
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back to their empty cabin. and there in that home, that had been then full of happy memories. fred and alex enjoyed the longest night of their lives. >> we stay together in the same room, the whole night. >> and did your dad sleep at all? >> it was a very long night. >> that they had no idea it was just the first sleep in this night of what would become the longest ordeal of their lives. coming up -- >> we started taking photos. she took a few of me. i took some of her. >> fred gives investigators a detailed account of what happened to leslie. >> it looked to me like she just did a swan dive... and lands on the rocks, right by the water. >> and he's very clear on who was to blame. >> it was that damn dog tangled up in her legs -- is well i think it was. >> what would police think of that? when "dateline" continues.
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daughters, amanda and ariel, were hundreds of miles away from colorado when it happened. their dad had to break the terrible news to them by phone. >> he said, i'm so sorry. i'm so sorry. what happened? he said, we were hiking. i was trying to take a picture. she fell. and i remember seeing, but she's going to be okay? he said no, she's dead. and i kind of lost it. started crying terribly. and he said, i am so, so sorry. >> what did your dad say to you when you got him on the phone? >> i don't even think i assumed what haven't. because you don't want to hear details. i could easily say that was the worst day of my life that i found out about my mom. the only detail that mattered was that she was gone. >> the tragic details, however,
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were the business of hinsdale county county sheriff ron bruce. he and his small office had the huge job of patrolling more than 1100 square miles of potentially dangerous wilderness and wildlife. should they have not gone to that area? >> no, no. it was perfectly fine. i think he related that it was something of an idyllic day. >> the day after leslie died, sheriff bruce stopped by the mueller's cabin to get a more precise account of what happened during that hike. bruce's under sheriff and a state state investigator talk to fred. >> you know. i should have taken or up there. it's all my fault. >> the conversation at the mueller's kitchen table was recorded. >> we started taking photos. she took a few me. i took a few of her. >> fred describe it in detail how that kodak moment went wrong. >> i suggested that she take a picture with her dog. and it's -- a border collie and it's just a an extremely skittish dog. she -- looks at me and i take her picture and we think everything
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cool. and i think, like, a bird kind of flutters by. >> fred said the rambunctious border collie got startled. >> but the dog just jumps out as she's turning and it's like. .. her feet just went out from under her. it's like a just happened in slow motion in front of me... she falls forward and -- i remember lunging for to try to... get to her. but i was probably five, six, seven feet from. her >> fred said he witnessed leslie freefall. it looked like to me like she just did a swan dive. and lands on the rocks, right by the water. just -- just -- like head and shoulders. and -- just crumples. and then just slides like mush into the little channel... and i'm screaming her name. i'm hollering. i should've just jumped in. >> fred says he lost sight of
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leslie in the waters, so he ran down to where he thought the current would take her. he said he got scratched up as he stumbled up and down this embankment, navigating rocks, and running for breaches. >> i must have tripped. have a few times. quite a few times coming down. i'm sure i hit, obviously hit something come down with a few times. >> he told how he had left the camera with those last images of his wife behind. >> i would imagine i would imagine i just dropped it while i was screaming. >> unable to locate leslie, he abandoned his search of the creek bed and made the decision to go for help. >> i hold but to justin's house. and i'm honking and i'm screaming at him too, you know, i think my wife said. >> after listening to fred's story, the sheriff wanted to go up to the site of the accident. you take fred back up to the mountain. >> yes, we had to walk through the scene. >> up at the scene, fred repeated how the dog seemed to
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call leslie's fall. >> it was that damned dog tangled up in her legs... is what i think it was. >> gracie ran off into the woods right after the accident. a member of the sheriff's department later found her and took her back to his house. >> everything changed that day. >> changed forever. in ways the kids could not in their immediate grief begin to grasp. that's because while their father was on that mountain talking to authorities, seeds of doubt were being planted. right in the landscape around cottonwood creek. >> coming up -- >> one of those seeds found near the ledge were leslie spent her last moments. >> all the alarm bells were going off. even till day it gives me the chills. >> and a family worries about their grieving father. >> you just didn't know if he was going to do something crazy. or if he was ever going to go to be able to move on. >> when "dateline" continues.
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fred mueller spent the day after his wife's death talking with investigators about the antecedent on cottonwood creek. the next day, they flew home to texas. varied by a friend in a private plane. >> you never think that it could have been to you. there, fred and alex were reunited with amanda an aerial. alex's older sisters. >> you hear horrible stories and you feel for these people. it's surreal that we were now that family and getting through. and >> so many came to pay their respects. but morning took its toll. >> i would hold myself together in front of people who would visit and i would go into the
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other room to cry and breakdown. and it's kind of a saving face a little bit. >> leslie, the horse lover, was buried on the texas ranch where she grew up riding. >> when the blur was over and you finally had time to process what had happened, what did you think about with the mom and future -- >> i was angry. i was really looking forward to being pregnant and calling my mom anytime i had a little odd thing happen. >> two weeks before my graduation, it was a week before my problem. all these big things that are the biggest things in the world. it's just things that your mom should be there for him. i mean we're -- seeing us grow up. >> the kids were just grieving their own loss. they felt their fathers too. >> i had never seen him so said. you just didn't know if he was going to do something crazy or if he was ever going to get over this and be able to move
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on. >> and, up in colorado, cher bruce was building on either. he still had questions about the accidents and fred story. he sent deputy justin casey up to cottonwood creek. casey brought her brother with him. they shot video some snap photos along the way. >> we started below where mrs. mueller's body was found. and we took photographs below as we progressed upstream. >> as the casey brothers moved up the creek. we noticed that the creeks flow didn't seem very strong. it didn't push us around as we were walking. >> we were careful with their footing in the sense that there were slippery rocks underneath the water. but it wasn't hard to go against the current. >> the deputy couldn't help but wonder, how had leslie's body floated so far? >> the water was coming down but it's not a raging river. it's not fast moving. >> deputy casey reported back to share bruce, who, by that time and talk to the couple who
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lived by the trail and it helped a friend in those first frantic moments. but they said it costed a new light on fred story of that awful day. >> it will be taking out their back of their necks that instead of some red flags to them. >> they told chair bruce that asked called 9-1-1 and set out to help in the search, fred was frantic one minute and seemed calm the next. >> they seem the vibes were all run from. here they became very uncomfortable. >> did they kind of like, in hindsight, think back or was it right? then >> they were immediately concerned that something was amiss. >> it was the husband, justin, who found leslie's body in the creek. but he told the sheriff that initially fraud had sent him off to search too far downstream. >> he drove up on the short waves he said that he was sure that his wife's body was somewhere in that area. just thought that was on.
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was it possible that fred was just disoriented and it's kind of a tougher to navigate. >> it's possible. >> yet, sheriff said that he also got a stream five from fred the night leslie died. and again, the next day when they went back up to cottonwood creek. >> his emotions and his response to everything seemed to be extremely flat. and i felt, almost rehearsed. >> is that fair though? with everyone being different in this world. everyone reacting differently to tragedy. is it fair for you to judge him based on how you think he should be acting? >> i don't know if it's fair. but in my business, it's realistic. because, you have to look at all angles of an event and make sure that your uncovering everything that's. they're >> on the ledge where leslie fell, investigators found fred's camera and the photos of leslie's last moments alive. as he stared at leslie, the vibrant wife and mother, sheriff bruce's got told him, keep looking.
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>> the vibes were all. wrong all the alarm bells were going off, even to this day, it gives me a little bit of the chills. >> coming up -- >> vibes on one thing, but investigators thought they also had evidence that fred wasn't telling the truth. >> he told me she fell 20 feet. where was a trauma? where were the injuries? why did i not see what i expected to see? >> there were no broken bones. any substantial abrasions or contusions. >> what really happened to leslie that day? when dateline continues. that day? that day? when datelin crepe corrector lotion... only from gold bond. ♪ ♪ that day? when datelin at lowe's, you never have to be finished with aisles of ways to refresh and restyle. for whatever style you're feeling. at prices you're really feelin. shop the lowe's bath style & save event now in-store and online. for the folks charged with
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keeping the words in cottonwood look craig safe mostly the drowning was a tragedy. but also a mystery. i put myself in friends shoes and they didn't fit. sheriff ron had thought fred's demeanor the day leslie died was unusual. fred, to him, showed a lack of emotion. but what really spoke volumes to the sheriff and his team was something they knew well. the terrain around cottonwood creek. as fred told them, leslie did a swan dive from up their landing on the head and shoulders on this rock. then she slipped into the water, a horrible accident for the law enforcement. something seems off. the first trained rescuer on
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the scene noticed at first what appeared to be a major inconsistency in that story. such a treacherous fall, leslie's body went pulled from the creek didn't look at all injured. >> he told me she fell 20 feet. where was the trauma? where were the injuries? why did i not see what i expected to see? >> one look at that drop off and sheriff bruce was wondering the same thing, but when the autopsy report came back, it only heightened his suspicions. >> there were no broken bones. any substantial abrasions or contusions. it's simply wasn't. they're >> every accident is different. every fall is different. is it possible that she just fell in a certain way that didn't produce those injuries that you are looking for? >> no, if she landed headfirst like you told us she landed she would've had head injuries, facial fractures, spinal trauma. none of that was president. so cher bruce made a quick
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conclusion that fred had to be lying. what you see here is that we went back to cottonwood creek with the sheriff in may 2014. that's the same month leslie. died >> we got a late snowstorm this. you're a spring storm had just blanketed the woods and rocks. >> i have to say, i am honestly nervous just standing here. this is very steep >> it's a sheer dropoff. >> it's up here where they had pose for pictures that cher bruce showed me what he thought were key pieces to their puzzle. >> the evidence here at the scene makes us believe that it's something entirely different happened. >> they found trampled bushes, what they thought looked like scoffed marks and a pair broken glasses that turned out to be friends. there was an evidence of a struggle where the mongol glasses were found. >> sheriff bruce formed a theory. after snapping those photos, fred and leslie got into a
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physical fight. we think that at that point, i think, anyway that she was able to break free of his grasp at that point. and she ran back this way and down paralleling this path to go down eventually and meet up with the string. you think you chased after? her i think he parallel turned down that road and he got to a point where he can easily interceptor if she's going down by the stream. >> if your theory is right, that is almost like she was being hunted. >> it's almost like a hair and a wall. >> and according to persist theory, fred chased his wife right into the shallow pool where she was found. >> that's where he held her underwater ground. and placed her right under the submerged. log >> but bruce admits, investigators had some evidence to back up that scenario. >> what about footprints? there were no footprints in the mud? >> no, at that time we had investigators in there and -- >> so the evidence was ruined essentially? if there was evidence. >> right. >> the sheriff and agents at the colorado bureau of
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investigation, the cba, work together. investigating what they now thought was a homicide. >> they went down to where the mothers lived in wall texas to push around in french life. but, they couldn't find anyone to say anything bad about him. >> we found that the interviews were largely unproductive. >> so you are hitting walls. in while texas, which is an outline community outside -- of >> it's a pretty close community. >> and inside that community, none of leslie's friends or family doubted fred. and couldn't understand why folks something colorado were asking questions. >> yeah, people loved that. that's why he had immense amount of support. >> and then, ten months after leslie's death, ted mueller got an invitation from the cb i. the agent wanted fred to come back up to colorado for a top. >> you know, he casually mentioned that he's going up to colorado and they want to be back up there. and he's just saying, i don't know what they're doing. but it's just that we have to
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cooperate, they're doing their jobs, let's just get past it so we can move. on >> i just wanted to first, fred thank you for coming. >> you're welcome. >> again, he shared his recollections that they at the vacation home. >> it was a beautiful day -- there's so many things that i wish i had done differently. >> and again, described what happened to leslie after she post for that last photo. >> she was flare living in the air, screaming. and i was screaming. and she hit -- and never made another pete. >> if it's account of the accident was the scene, the tone of this interview was different. the cb i agent made it clear it didn't believe his story. >> and, i want to take this opportunity to ask you everything that makes you think that this may not have been an accident. >> ask me anything you want. >> the question fret about the broken glass is found at the scene. >> i'm thinking you too had an argument by this bush. >> no ma'am.
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no ma'am. my wife and i did not have an argument, anywhere that day. that was the bestie of our lives until that last moment. >> the best day of their lives? the aging clearly's expected that there have been trouble in the mueller's marriage. a suggestion that mueller coolly dismissed. >> so i could see after that many years the two of you grow apart. >> no. i think we made a hell of a good pair. >> and you did know quite out to deal with that. >> or? or? one could say that after 27 years we were looking forward to retirement. >> and fred insisted that on the day she died, he funder more attractive than ever. >> she was beautiful, she knew that. and i would tell you that. she became more beautiful from being already beautiful in my eyes. she became more beautiful as she became older. and we had a very -- we had a very active sex life.
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we got along great. and if you did an autopsy, you would not. that >> what are you trying to tell me? >> that we made love that morning. >> but even as the seemingly confident fred grew -- >> the agent wasn't deterred. >> what about the scratches on that date that he got the day that she died? >> -- >> we were running down this hill and we had fallen a few times, which i did fall. but it had to be from some of that. there's no other explanation. that's factual. >> there's no altercation? >> no ma'am. no ma'am. >> because -- >> look under her fingernails if you think that there's something on her fingernails missing from off my face. >> -- >> there was no altercation, none. write it down. >> it seems like that's all that they could. do document fred story and watch him. lead >> i'm sorry that --
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>> time is 11:23, i'm stopping the report. >> investigators had a very. but did they have a case? fred one home to his family where he thought, this is the end of. it >> his entire thing to all of this is that this is an accident of telling the truth. he wanted to help them see. that >> but investigators hadn't seen that. not at all. and fred couldn't answer their questions, they head back to cottonwood creek and hope that the water could. >> coming up -- >> fred has always said that water carried leslie away, to hear where her body was found. now? investigators put that story to the test. >> we had to go back and tried to duplicate the water flow as it was on the evening of the event. they said that there was no way that her body could've ended up under that lock unless it had been placed there. >> when dateline continues. ere.
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didn't hear anything from the colorado investigators. the kids assume the sheriff and his team had finally decided to leave their dad too. >> we didn't hear from them for three years. after that, i had thought, you know, i guess they're finished up their paperwork or whatever they needed to do. and then it was. over >> it wasn't over. >> we gotta go -- >> in fact, after fret interview with the cbi, investigators kept working. what drove them was a theory about a possible struggle. and that curious lack of injury on leslie's body. but the sheriff knew they needed more. and he put the photo of leslie behind his desk. >> she was my constant reminder. that photo was what was the notch that kept me going on this case. >> investigators decided to
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zero in on one aspect of fred story. was a really possible fearlessly's body to float from where he said she fell to where she was found? 150 feet and three waterfalls downstream? >> when we brought in the really top notch wonderful experts, we had to go back and try to duplicate the water flow as it was on the evening of the event. >> in august 2009, 15 months after leslie died, investigators headed up to cottonwood creek to conduct some tests. they just a woman, around leslie size, in similar clothing to what she wore the day she died. and position the female standing on the rock ledge where fred said leslie landed before sliding into the water. >> the forensic people tried to float her from that location. they were alleged that she failed. the water did barely touch her body. she was then moved into the
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very center of that stream. and it wouldn't. butter finally, they went down to the pool where leslie was found. they then put her in a wet suit. which gives her buoyancy. she was able to float, but unassisted, she had a hard time making all the way to the lock where leslie's body had been pinned. this meant something big to the investigators. >> so, if you lied about what he told us about this ranging current turn her away from his view. they tried it all again with a mannequin. and again, what they saw did not match what frederick called. in the deep purples, the mannequin sink. and it got stuck at the false. >> each time, she had to be physically moved or lifted over those waterfalls. the stream would not move her. >> did you feel like because this case was hard enough as it was that this testing had to be
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as perfect as it could be. yes we're dealing with circumstantial evidence. and circumstantial evidence is often to get your conviction. and we knew we had to get a lot of it. to investigators, these tests confirmed their suspicion. to them, there's suspicion of leslie's accident was impossible? >> they said that there was no way that her body ended up under that lock in less it had been placed there. the forces of nature would not have put her under there. but, were these tests enough to put a full-fledged criminal case? the first person they'd have to convince was the local district attorney? >> he was quickly brought on board to what he was investigating. it turned out to be a hard sell. >> for whatever, reason we could not peak's interests. he never said no. but i didn't find the enthusiasm. >> even after those tests, the da wasn't ready to press
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charges. months won by, then a year. leslie's picture was still there right behind sheriff bruce's desk. but the investigators weren't about to shelf their case. >> are there things happening? are there wills turning? >> it was constantly on our radar screen that there were things yet to be done. but much did. one on >> all of this time, fred was a free man in texas. his business ventures were moving on. and it's home we were all saying that he got away with murder. >> but fred says that -- he may have under rested the county apartment. >> he was going to get some kind of bumping buffoon. and he was going to walk away on. us >> what do you say to someone who says, you're a small town sheriff who got tunnel vision. who focused on this rich outsider and like a dog with the, boat would not like. go >> i probably say the. wrong and i got thick skin. we did the right thing.
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>> they kept working and testing and poking around. not sure if it would ever amount to anything. >> as the years moved, on investigators were continuing to build a case against fred. though, his children were unaware that their father was under subs intense suspicion. they were trying hard to remember the happy moments with their mother and put the colorado tragedy behind. then >> what became of the cabin that held so many memories for all of you? >> i think after the at sudden it wasn't going to be a happy place for us anymore. so that decided to sell the place shortly after bonded. >> i would imagine that that area is sort of bittersweet. now unfortunately, it's a beautiful area but just not for us. >> for the mueller children, life seem to be stabilizing. amanda was settling in with her husband. aerial was in college. and alex, a high school student, was dreaming of a career in the navy.
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but as alex said, his dad was having a harder time of. then >> he married mom when he was 18 or 19, he depended so much on my mud there. and all of a sudden, he just cast adrift. >> unfortunately, the concern friend suggested he was ready to meet someone news. >> he finally started getting back on his feet. he started thinking about moving on. and he met wendy. wendy and fred were introduced through old family friends. >> she came into a very tough situation. but she also brought my dad out of a very dark place. she saved his life, essentially, because he was so depressed. >> after today's also widower, friend mary 20. >> she was really great and understanding and helped him move forward. >> a fresh start, such a long way from fred's tough grilling in colorado. he had good reason to think that it was all over. >> there were times where we were really frustrated. when they say that the wheels of justice turned slow, we felt like they were turning to slow this. time >> all the while, while
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the things were passing we were looking at leslie's photo in their office every day. >> yes i am. >> is that keeping you going, focused? >> absolutely. >> then, in 2011, 2000 -- ten after years after a new da took office in the sheriff lobbied him to take action. >> we were able to get 30 minutes of his time and say, here's what we're looking, at here is what we think occurred. he said, let's go. >> the da assembled a team to look into the case. a deputy colorado state attorney general came on board, he was later joined by ryan bradley, on loan from the boulder county da. >> what was your first impression? >> very tough case. >> the combed through the case file. fred statements, leslie's autopsy and all those tests conducted at the creek. >> this location was a breathtakingly beautiful case in the middle of nowhere. it was the perfect place to commit a murder where nobody would see. >> coming up -- >> authorities take a closer
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look at the scene. >> the defendants story did not match up. and for the mueller kids, a shock. >> i was just like, why? and i said all we can tell you. that >> a new chapter opens but nothing in this case will go the way anyone thinks. when dateline continues. whenlly feeling. shop the lowe's bath style & save event now in-store and online.
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when you meet other people facing what you faced, you start a business dedicated to helping them. and after you've achieved all that, you take on what's next. i'm craig melvin, and i'm natalie morales, and this is dateline. >> in 2011 fred mueller was happily remarried and running his successful business in texas. but up in lake city, colorado, there was a new da. and he assembled a team to look into the mysterious death of mueller's first wife, leslie. they began to see what the sheriff had suspected from the start. >> the defendant story did not matchup with the landscape, the scene and all of the other
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evidence that the colorado bureau of investigation was able to develop. >> at what point did you finally finally, all of you, say we got enough? let's go get him? >> i think it was when we felt like we had gone through this thing to death. when we had absolutely everything we could possibly put together to take to the jury. >> february 6th, 2012. just over three and a half years since leslie mueller died. the monday, fred was at his office when a texas rangers showed up with an arrest warrant in hand. sheriff ron bruce down from colorado, stood a few feet away. >> he looked at us almost in shock and he said, i can't believe you people are taking this series. >> how was that for you to finally make that arrests? >> it felt great. it felt great. and at that point, i said, leslie we're going to make this right. >> alex was in school when he was suddenly pulled out of class. >> there were texas rangers here to talk to me.
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i kind of asked, what's going on? why are you really hear? your father has been arrested. >> did you say anything back to them? >> why? oh, we can't tell you that. we just have some proof. they said it took you four years. what exactly are you doing? they said, we just can't tell you that. >> did you ever think for one second, well, there must be something? he must have done something for him to be arrested to be going through this? >> no. we never doubted his story. we never doubted -- we never thought he would've done anything wrong. or anything to her mom, ever. that's something that i can't even fathom. because he would've never done anything like that. >> the kids believe the authorities had it in for their dad and trumped up things that were true. like that their father showed no emotion after their mother's death. >> he was obviously panicked. he was panicking, he was shaking. he had been crying profusely. >> remember, only alex was in colorado at the time.
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and thinking back, he got angry about the way he and his dad were treated. >> they separate us like you would with criminals. separate myself for my dad. separate vehicles. >> to the kids, it all pointed to a rush to judgment that turned into an obsession. >> if you go into it looking for trouble, you're going to find it. >> we were also as a family never informed what they were doing at cottonwood creek. that they were paying for experts, doing all kinds of tests on the water. and all these different things like that. this was all a closely guarded secret that they never felt they should share with either him or the family of the victim, of my mother. >> fred mueller spent the next year in jail in colorado awaiting trial. >> he sunk into such a deep depression, right after mom died. he kind of sack sank back into it when he was sitting in jail. >> it was the more the fact that he was cut off from his family for a year. >> the kids were eager for their dad to take on his accusers. attorney roger segel was part of france's legal team. >> after reading through the discovery and the evidence,
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what were your first thoughts? >> why was this guy arrested for murder? was my first thought. it was a question from the very beginning. what evidence did they really have? >> he'd soon find out, in court. more than four years after leslie drowned in cottonwood creek, fred mueller would stand trial for murder. we coming up -- the prosecution challenges fred's entire story. including, stunningly, the one thing that never seemed and doubt his rock-solid marriage. >> fred was telling people that in fact, the marriage had grown stale and he did have a wondering eye. >> when "dateline" continues. i'm -- i'm always here. i'm always here for you, too. okay. go, dad.
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[ chuckles ] thanks. no, everyone's passing you in the race. oh. you got it, coach! switch to progressive, and you can save hundreds. you know, like the sign says. [ sighs ] >> four and a half years after
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leslie mueller's death, her husband fred's murder trial began in colorado. their children and friends knew
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wife dropped everything to be in court. and to pray that their dad would soon be cleared. are you all just anxious for this trial to start? >> yes. definitely. >> i want to see why they put us through this. what do they think that they have? >> as the trial got underway that frigid january, 2013, inside the courtroom the prosecution felt and icy chill. normally when you walk into a courtroom during a murder trial, it's very divided. i walked into and everybody was on fred's side. leslie's family included. it was that daunting to you at all? >> i wouldn't say daunting. it is certainly unique. we had to stay focused on what we thought and what we needed to do. we believed that the defendant was responsible for his wife's murder. >> it would all come down to two competing versions of what happened here. fred's story, leslie accidentally went over this cliff and was swept away by the current. or, the prosecutions.
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that fred was lying to cover up leslie's murder. >> two people went on a hike and only one person came back. >> the prosecution began its case with testimony about fred 's behavior that day. they called jennifer sparks, whose house fred drove to looking for help. >> did you observe him become a motion ill at any time? >> no. >> she told the jury fred's lack of emotion concerned her. >> what conversations did you have with your husband about that? >> i told him something is not right. be careful. >> her husband, justin, testified that fred's demeanor seemed staged as the group drove together to look for leslie. >> it just sounded like somebody was crying that there were no tears. he acted like he was very, very upset. and then, a few seconds later he would act like we were kind of buddies driving down the road in the car. >> the prosecution had hoped to bring the jury up to cottonwood creek. but in january, the terrain was virtually impossible with snow
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and ice. so, it was up to the prosecutors to set the scene. and show why they thought fred 's story defied common sense and science. >> injuries are going to tell you a story that leslie mueller was drowned by her husband. >> i solemnly swear -- >> prosecutors called michael golob, affirmed first trained rescuer on the scene. >> i'm asking, what happened? tell me how it happened? he released that she had apparently fallen off of the waterfall. >> fred told golob the same thing he told investigators. he'd watch leslie swan dive off the cliff, hitting granted before sliding into the water. >> all of a sudden i was struck with the fact that there was no trauma. >> did you see any blood on leslie mueller? >> there was no deformities. there was no blood. >> even leslie's clothing seemed unscathed. >> did you notice any markings, tears, scrapes on the jacket? >> there was none. it was remarkably pristine.
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>> the pathologists who performed leslie's autopsy was also surprised by the lack of injuries to her body. >> did you observe any injuries to misses mueller that were consistent with breaking a fall? >> no, i did not. did you observe any consistent with falling on her head and shoulders off a cliff onto granted, as described? >> no. >> and what's more, investigators found no forensic evidence that leslie ever hit that rock. >> there was no fibers on the rock. there was no blood on this rock. there was no here on this rock. >> this is a very unique case in the sense that the evidence is lack of evidence. there is no evidence. >> that's the tough part of the case. what we have is a lot of evidence that what the defendant said is impossible. >> and here was the heart of the prosecution's case. those tests investigators conducted up at the creek. tests they said proved fred's story was a like. they should the jury the videos
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of those tests, pointing out in one, how the female stand in wasn't swept downstream. and in another, the mannequin wasn't washed over the waterfall. and eventually sank to the bottom. >> are you seeing any sliding of the mannequin? into the water, no. any bruising? no. >> the prosecution's drowning expert was blunt. to her, fred's story was pure fiction. >> there's nothing in that environment water wise that could've gotten her to that spot. a human being had a physical physically put the body in that position. >> so, what really happened? in the court, the prosecution could only hint at that dramatic story the sheriff told us. his theory of a struggle. the chase. and a drowning. he felt there were no witnesses for any of that. so he never actually was presented as evidence. an investigator who searched
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the area where fred said leslie fell, did testify about finding fred's broken glasses. >> this side was broken, the left-hand side was sticking in the dirt. >> did you see any thing on the ground? >> four foot from the glasses, there were what appeared to be scuff marks. as if somebody had slipped and had moved the dirt. >> and on the stand, that this witness, the coroner. >> those are the gloves that leslie was wearing. >> try to connect those scratches on fred's face to the plastic bumps or nuns on leslie's gloves. >> the plastic nevins are a lot more consistent with a scratch marks on mr. mueller's face, then branches or tweaks. >> however, after a defense objection, the judge ruled the coroner statement conjecture. and told the jury to disregard it. so, even though the prosecutors were not allowed to tell the jury how they thought the murder happened, they still had a theory to present for the why. they were high school
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sweethearts. he had never abused her, to anyone's knowledge. he had no life insurance policy on her that he was trying to collect. what is the motive? >> fred was telling people, one being an employee of his, and another a close friend, that in fact the marriage had grown stale. that it was the same old, same old, between he and leslie. and that he did have a wandering eye. >> and according to the prosecution, his eye had wondered here. >> we were very good friends. >> fred's former assistant testified that fred called and texted her a lot outside of work. >> did that ever make you uncomfortable? >> a little bit. >> and once fred talk to her about leslie and divorce. >> he had just mentioned that their interests had grown apart. >> so, according to the prosecution team, fred picked
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an -- spot out of nowhere to find a way out of his marriage. and then, concocted the story of her fall as a cover. >> two people went up, one came back. and we've only got his story. and we know that story is false, through and through. >> the defendant is asked people to believe what is impossible. impossible. >> but fred's lawyers were about to turn the state's case on its head. those tests at cottonwood creek, in fact, any so called evidence of murder, just didn't hold water at all. coming up -- defense experts tell the jury that the way leslie died is absolutely clear. >> what is it my pinion? >> what is it in my opinion? accident. that's what i would have put on the death certificate. >> when "dateline" continues.
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>> for three, cold colorado weeks, as prosecutors laid out their case for murder, fred mueller's defense attorney, roger segel, sat by his side. >> how was fred feeling throughout the trial? >> he was nervous. his life is on the line. he was tense. nobody out about it. it was stressful. >> fred's children found it especially hard.
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>> it was the worse experience you can imagine. the worst day of your life. imagine that being analyzed by a room full of people and drug out publicly and scrutinize. your personal, private tragedy being exposed to the world and picked apart. >> to the siblings, each day in court felt like an unrelenting attack against their family and their father. >> you can't react. you can't see anything. you just have to sit there and take it and watch them say all these horrible accusations about my dad. >> looking for one person to stand up and say, this is preposterous. this entire -- there is no evidence. he's a good guy. he's never shown any history of violence. and it was a his wife, for goodness sake. we're stopping this. >> now, fred's lawyers were ready to push back. the defense co-counsel told the jurors there was an obvious rush to judgment that contaminated the entire investigation. >> kind of an evil, suspicion from the get-go. >> first responder michael
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golob testified that neighbor justin sparks started making accusatory comments while they were still trying to revive leslie. >> justin at one point turn to me and said something along the lines of, i never trusted that guy. >> i think that the suspicion started with mr. sparks. and never stopped. >> you think it was somewhat of a snowball effect? >> yeah, i do. >> and even though golob was a prosecution witness, he admitted he personally didn't find anything odd about fred's behavior that day. >> he just seemed to have trouble focusing. he seemed panic. everyone deals with tragedy difference. i fell in the context, it seemed appropriate. >> but what about that important evidence against fred? the apparent lack of injuries on leslie's body? >> did you wonder why your mom didn't have more injuries as some people feel she should? >> no.
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>> you can't say what people are supposed to -- >> this was bundled up she was, in cold water. we thought about this more than anyone should ever think about what their mother's body died after she died. >> the defense called its own forensic expert, veteran pathologists warner-- he testified there were some injuries. bruising on her hand. an apparent small skull fracture that no one else had highlighted. >> if you look carefully at this, you will see that there is an area here that is not like it should be. >> after looking at the medical examiners report, and leslie's x-rays, dr. spitz said there was no evidence this was a homicide. >> what was it in my opinion? accident. that's what i would have put on the death certificate. >> a veteran emergency room doctor backed up spits his conclusion.
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saying not all false or catastrophic. >> i don't see how you can rule out a fall from any of the circumstances or injuries that i've seen. >> and then, it was time to counter all of those prosecution water tests. the backbone of the state's case. the defense saw major problems with those tests and called its own water expert. a hydrologist who had been measuring current flows for 40 years. >> increase of stream flow and as a general rule, an increase of stream flow comes in the late afternoon and evening. >> the defense expert pointed out that water in the mountains changes constantly. and in 2008, a year the year leslie died, there was more snow melt than usual. >> it was 2008 a high-water year? >> it is a tremendously high water here. >> those prosecution tests were done more than a year later and in a different season. not spring, but summer. when the creeks water level is usually lower. >> the flows on august 4th and fifth, of 2009, or less than the stream flows on may 3rd and mid fourth of 2008. >> all that so called evidence that proved fred's story was impossible? the defense said it was
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useless. >> the testing that you do in 2009, is not necessarily going to reflect what did our did not happen in 2008. the bottom's of the creek change, the walls of the creek can change. there's a russian uptick. you can see the more times you go up there, you can see every time it's a little bit different. >> and the defense attacked the states expert for what it said was another flaw with the mannequin test. >> you do not start that test with the mannequin falling from the ledge. right? >> absolutely not. >> and therefore, your testing did not account for any kinetic energy that would have been initiated from the fall. correct? >> that's correct. >> and what about fred's story? a jumpy dog distracted by a blue jay and a swan dive towards the rocky water? the defense said it was the truth and not at all farfetched. >> it is steep and angular. there's ice, rocks it, slippery.
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so, it seemed perfectly plausible that she had followed. fallen and floated. >> the defense brock inaccurate canine behavior expert who analyze the last photo of leslie. said the young border collie look spooked and ready to bolt. >> the dog is under stress. the dog is pushing back. he's pushing back from mrs. mueller. she's trying to control him with the pinch and the dog is looking totally off in another direction. >> to the defense, it was clear. fred's story was entirely plausible and the prosecutions was not. >> why would he do this? why would a guy who was married for 27 years, with no history of violence, no history of any sort of domestic dispute, all of a sudden decide on his vacation that he was going to murder his wife with his bare hands? it just seems that part of the case seem so farfetched. >> friend after friend arrive from texas to support fred. even his in laws took the stand.
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leslie's own mother, jenny, vouch for her son former son-in-law's character. >> all those years, any signs of fred being abusive or violent? >> no, i never saw a sign in fred being violent. to anyone. >> and each of fred's children also face the jury to tell them about their parents long and happy marriage. ariel described one nightly routine. >> mom and dad walk to the pond that was in front of our house about 200 yards, holding hands and they would be out there for 30 minutes to an hour. while the sun would be setting. >> amanda recalled how devastated her father was in the wake of her mother's death. >> i know he was a sleeping
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well. he was stay in ballot bed a lot during the day. he cried all the time. >> and alex his testimony brought out an emotional response from fred in court. >> did you ever see your dad able to get over it? >> no. i'm looking at him right now and he's not over it. >> but what about fred's former assistant? the woman who had given prosecutors a semblance of motive? in fact, during cross examination, the assistant said fred and his wife showed affection for each other all the time. >> if he was at his desk, she would come in, she'd go straight to his desk. she'd give him a kiss and she will go back to her desk in the back. >> the absolute bottom line is, there is no affair with the assistant. and fred did not kill his wife. he certainly did not kill his wife for the assistant. >> the defense wish sure it had shown the jury who fred really was. people who knew him best said no way in the world could he have killed his wife. but now, it was up to 12 people who didn't know fred at all to decide whether he did. coming up -- waiting for a verdict. >> the longer it took, the more
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we were getting nervous. >> and then, a bombshell -- >> i was almost in tears. >> when "dateline" continues. and it's my job to test the product. the best almonds make the best almondmilk. blue diamond almond breeze. >> after a contentious five
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weeklong trial, the murder case against fred mueller finally went to the jury. what was it like waiting for that so important verdict? >> butterflies. >> yeah, we were also nervous. but we were also pretty confident and the fact that there is no way that he will not be acquitted. >> day one of deliberations came and went without a verdict. as the waiting spilled into day two, the defense and prosecution agreed on one thing -- >> that is the toughest time of the trial. it's the waiting.
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you are literally in a holding pattern. >> that's the worst part of any trail. just not knowing what the result is going to be. >> sheriff bruce was back in his lake city office, waiting by that photo of leslie. >> i had no concerns. we were going through the process. i will admit a little, i question why i was taking so long. i thought we had a -- it was in a slam dunk, but i thought we had a solid case. >> at the courthouse, the jury was still out. three days, no decision. >> the longer it took, the more we were getting nervous. because it seems so clear cut. >> it seemed obvious to us. >> it was the fourth day of deliberations when the jurors sent out a note. everyone gathered in the courtroom to hear what they had to say. >> we are at an impasse. >> the judge offered them lunch and asked for one more try. fred's future was in their hands. ten minutes later, they had
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passed on the free food and we're back. >> ladies and gentlemen, i do have another note from you folks in the case and it indicates that we are deadlocked. >> hopelessly so. the judge had no real choice. he declared declared a mistrial. >> it was extremely disappointing. extremely disappointing because it was not the answer that we thought we deserved. that we do deserve. >> mostly i felt for fred. you know? ultimately it's his life that's on trial. so, i felt sad for him that we couldn't get this resolved for him in the form of an acquittal. >> in fact, the defense had been very close. 11 of the 12 jurors voted not guilty. >> i heard the jury vote, i was almost in tears. and i thought, how they did miss what we were trying to say?
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>> after the miss trial, the defense argued for his release on bond and the judge granted it. >> i just can't wait to be able to give him a hug and to talk to him whenever i want. >> now, one full year after losing his freedom, fred was going to get out of jail. his daughters and new wife, wendy, gather to embrace him. son alex, who was traveling, called in for an update. >> we're at the deal right now just waiting for your dad. >> i hadn't given him a hug in a year. we haven't been able to see him in person in a year. >> yay! [applause] yay! [applause] >> i love you guys. >> it was so wonderful to get that hug that we waited for. >> do you remember what you said to him? >> i love you.
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let's go home. when's the next flight out? [laughs] >> come on, let's go home. >> it was so emotional. we were also excited. we finally got to take that home. >> home to texas, but for how long? fred was only out on bond. he still was charged with murder and had the threat of a retrial hanging over his head. >> we were extremely hopeful that they could change their minds and decide not to go forward again. >> we were really hoping for that. >> more than just hoping. in fact, the family actually met with prosecutors and lobbied against another trial. did that weigh into whether to go to a second trial at all? the fact that this entire family, leslie's family included, did not want a trial? >> absolutely. we have to consider their position. we have to consider where they're coming from. >> then, one part of the
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decision was made for them. the judge threw out the most serious charge. first degree murder. why? the judge ruled prosecutors it did not have enough evidence to establish premeditation. >> we did manage to get an acquittal on the first degree murder charge. >> the prosecutors could still move ahead with second degree murder. but would they? that 11 to 1 vote surely made a retrial daunting. >> 11 to 1 is not a great outcome for the prosecution's perspective. >> but the prosecutors spoke to some of the those jurors and found out, to many of them, not guilty didn't mean innocent. >> behind those numbers were a group of people who, by and large felt that, something had happened here. that fred mueller was not telling the truth. >> prosecutors weighed it all and made their decision. fred would stand trial for murder again. >> i remember having a moment, thinking, i can't do this again. and my mom all this would be like, well you're gonna do it.
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i felt like she was saying you're going to be fine and it's gonna be good. >> your mom was kind of guiding you through -- >> yes. she was always, suck it up, you can do it. >> but the second trial would by no means to be a carbon copy of the first. with new attorneys and new witnesses, both sides hoped that this time they would see a different result. coming up -- the defense comes out swinging. >> what the prosecution asks you to believe is that fred mueller went from this, to a homicidal maniac within seconds. >> but then, a defense witness says something that might do fred more harm than good. >> fred is very successful. he could sell anything. >> would jurors think fred had sold everyone a lie about what happened to leslie? when dateline continues. when dateline continues.
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>> october 2013 felt like a grim groundhog day. fred mueller, again in court. his family supporting him from the gallery. did you feel at all like, ok, we know how this works no? we're a little stronger this time around? >> i did feel that way. we can cut out the extraneous stuff and really focus on the no case. >> but there were differences from the first trial. to ensure an untainted jury pool, the case had been moved northeast to suburban denver. more than 250 miles away from cottonwood creek. >> the evidence in this case is that leslie mueller did not fall off a cliff. >> this time from the prosecution, jurors heard a streamlined version of events. and how, according to the state, fred mueller told a story that defied logic. >> like most murders, this one is hard explain. does it make sense. it doesn't make sense how and
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why this could happen. >> the witnesses to that awful day again came forward. neighbor jennifer sparks again told how she thought fred was acting strangely when he pulled up to her house. and she added this new detail -- >> he was petting my dog. >> squatting down, putting that dog? >> yeah, the dog was right here and he was just petting the dog. >> she felt that the defendant's demeanor was oddly calm. that he bent down and petted the dog. she felt like his demeanor was misplaced. >> for the prosecution, this trial was a second chance to explain to the jury how fred's story didn't match up with the scene. >> this area was not vast. it was a huge. it was actually quite tight and actually quite small. it's making the defendants statement impossible. >> our primary goal in the second trial was to get that jury to the scene. >> the judge considered a visit to cottonwood creek, but ruled it was too expensive and
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impractical to bring the jury that far. >> not being able to do that, we did our best in the second trial to bring the scene to the jury. >> this second jury had a new 3d model of cottonwood creek to examine. and fresh testimony to consider. that apparent small skull fracture of leslie's that offense highlighted in the first trial, no way said the states new witness. who was an expert in reading x-rays. >> could you determine that there's any evidence of a fall from 20 feet on to a hard, granite surface? >> i didn't see any evidence of that kind of trauma. and it see any evidence of it. >> prosecutors hammered home their key points. leslie had no injuries from a fall. and tests showed she could not have floated downstream, as fred said she did. >> it just doesn't seem as a likely scenario. >> so, they argued, must fred have drowned her right where she was found. right after a violent struggle. >> it was our intention to
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streamline the second trial as much as possible. and focus in on the critical points of the case. >> but fred mueller also changed things up in this trial. he hired a new powerhouse attorney, who had a roster of high profile clients like kobe bryant. >> what the prosecution prosecution asked you to believe is that fred mueller went from this, to a homicidal maniac within seconds. >> fred's new lawyer argued that the state's case was beyond flimsy. >> the theory that because leslie mueller did not suffer any significant injuries in her fall from the ledge, fred mueller must have drowned her. that's their case. they won't give you the why of that theory. they won't give you the how.
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>> the defense, again, criticize the prosecutions recreations. and told this jury there was no way anyone could know for sure what the water flow and death are on the day leslie died. >> if someone measured the actual stream flow of cottonwood creek within days or a week of the incident, it would have be informative. >> and several new defense witnesses took the stand. there was a biomechanical engineer who examined the mannequin used in this test. >> frankly, it's not even right to call it testing. >> according to the defense is new expert, the states test had a big flaw. the dummy couldn't sink or float in water the same way a human does. in fact, it was an even designed for this sort of experiment. >> as far as buoyancy is concerned, it's not a scientific in front stream it for determining this. it's the wrong tool for scientifically probing -- >> and this time, the defense brought in an expert to explain away possible holes in fred's
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story. the expert said extremely stressful situations play tricks with memories. maybe fred did actually see leslie fall on her head as he said he did. >> false memories happen to us all the time. it's not a lie, it's just a memory that happens to be incorrect. >> but no expert could help the jurors understand how fred truly felt about his wife of almost 27 years. to wrap up their case, the defense brought out fred's family to talk about how happy the muellers had been. >> did you observe anything that led you to believe that your folks were having difficulty in their marriage? >> no. never. >> leslie's mother again defended fred. >> i've always had a good relationship with fred. >> but the prosecution's ears perked up when she offered a new detail about her son in law. >> fred is very successful. he could sell anything. he's a wonderful salesman. >> in final statements, the prosecutor used those words
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against fred. >> what we learned about the defendant yesterday is that he can sell anything. but he can't sell you the impossible. >> from our perspective, that's why he try to do. he tried to sell emergency responders, cbi, the sheriff's office, and quite frankly these juries -- try to sell something, a story that was just simply impossible. >> could this jury rise to the challenge and once and for all make sense of what happened at cottonwood creek? coming up -- jurors get the case. >> either you believe crazy story a, that she fell off the cliff. or you believe crazy story be, that fred, who has no history of violence, killed his wife. both stories are crazy. which one do you want to go with? >> when "dateline" continues.
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dozens of witnesses, and 17 hundreds of pieces of evidence into colorado courtrooms to get to this moment. again, 12 men and women were trying to decide if leslie mueller was murdered or a victim of a freak accident. >> we all agreed that the accident, the fall, was completely crazy. i just kept thinking, well crazy things happen in life all the time. >> we spoke to seven of the 12 jurors. >> either you believe crazy story a, that she fell off that cliff. or you believe crazy story b, that fred, who has no history of violence, killed his wife. both stories are crazy. which one do you want to go with? >> what were the key pieces of evidence for you, or the lack thereof? >> lack of injuries. >> you felt that she should've e >> absolutely. >> i mean, to fall 15 to 20
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feet until granted platform, face first. to go headfirst down three waterfalls and hold on, to be described as pristine. >> show of hands of who believed fred's story? >> we did take at one point in time, we all said let's vote and see who thinks he's lying. and we always tense. okay, we convicted him of lying. [laughs] >> the question beyond that was, if we don't believe his story, does that make him guilty. he is not on trial for lying. he's on trial for murder. and i need to know how and why. >> the jurors wondered, where was the evidence that fred drowned her? if he really did kill her, prosecutors never provided any clear explanation of how he did it. >> there was no evidence to put him down at the recovery site. there were no foot that footprints in the snow. there was no defensive wounds on her. if there was a scuffle, i would think she would have some
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bruises. she would've fought back. >> they poured over technical testimony about water in the creek. to them, that flood of data and expert testimony was a complete wash. >> you can bring all the experts in and all the water tests -- it was just pointless. because it was it done may 3rd, 2008. >> like the jury before them, this group's first day of deliberations and did without a verdict. >> as the deliberations took longer and longer it, became clear that we needed to be nervous again. >> while sheriff bruce felt more confident than ever, this time around. >> i slept well. i ate well. i went about the rest of my normal duties at work, without a whole lot of concern about it. just expected that phone call to come in and say, we got him. >> the trial jurors return the next morning determined to make a fresh start. was anyone here consistently thinking about leslie, the
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mother, the wife, doctor? >> we had all the pictures up and everything. i made the comment that leslie, talk to me. say something. because she can't speak. >> right, she needed us. >> after two days of intense debate, the 12 jurors thought they were done. they sent out a note and the judge called everyone into the courtroom. >> ladies and gentlemen, you've sent me a final note indicating that you do not believe you can reach a verdict. is that correct? >> i am going to declare the jury deadlocked in this case. >> hopelessly deadlocked. the second jury unable to say for sure if fred had mueller killed his wife or not. >> when you hear those two words again, hung jury. >> absolutely crushing. >> disappointment again on both sides. do you ever look back and think, you know what, maybe we shouldn't have done this? it wasn't there from the beginning. >> absolutely not. >> no. >> both these trials were
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worthy of prosecution. a woman was murdered and both the efforts were more than worth it. >> so, how close was the jury vote this time? 8 jurors believed fred was guilty. and 4 voted to acquit. >> i have too many questions that are unanswered. therefore i have reasonable doubt. >> we just couldn't come to an agreement. i was steadfast guilty. he was steadfast not guilty. we try to get everybody's impression of what happened, what they thought. >> the prosecutors wondered, could one decision by the judge have changed it all? >> to this day, i believe that had either one of these years been able to go to that scene, perhaps it would've been a different result. >> and then, three weeks after the second mistrial, an announcement. the state dropped all charges against fred mueller. >> when we finally got the news, it was overwhelming with joy. we finally can rest at ease. and my dad can move on with his life. can finally just move on and -- >> relax.
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>> fred and his wife wendy have returned to texas where's fred still runs his thriving business. in colorado, the case officially remains open. >> without any further investigation, without any further when aces that can come forward to provide us some new bit of evidence, at this point the case is just simply remains open. >> so, fred will essentially have this hanging over his head, potentially forever? >> at this point, the case remains open. >> fred told us he's well aware of this legal limbo. he said he wanted to do an interview with dateline but is concerned that anything he says could be distorted by the prosecutors and investigators, who still believe he did something wrong. >> leslie got to me. >> and that picture of leslie was prominently displayed in sheriff ron bruce is office. until he retired in early 2019. he says the photo is still with him. >> i think it was just the
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magnitude of the terrible tragedy that stuck with me. and will stay with me the rest of my life. >> you get teary eyed when you talk about this woman, you've never even met. >> correct. >> she's not even a member of your family. >> i do. >> what is this connection you feel with her? >> i don't have an explanation. i can't put a finger on it. that certainly, it does truly haunt me. i feel like i let her down. >> leslie's family chooses to remember her vividly. not as a victim, but as a cherished wife and mother that they lost too soon. >> we don't want people to forget about how wonderful of a person she was before the accident. and all the great things that she did. >> all the babies she delivered -- >> the life she saved. she was just a great, great person. >> with the vacation home the mueller once loved, long sold, they are making new memories as
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a family, far from colorado. and in those magnificent rockies, seasons change. waters rise and fall. some believe the secrets of cottonwood creek will remain a mystery, forever. mystery, forever this sunday the threat from russia. >> we are ready no matter what happens. >> more russian troops massing on ukraine's border. >> russia's aggression today not only threatened ukraine, it also threatens europe. >> the u.s. sends 3,000 troops to eastern europe. >> we want to make sure we reassure our allies that we're there. >> vladimir putin breaks his silence and says the u.s. is ignoring russia's security concern. >> since he put more troops along the border, i think we should be ready f


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